VANITY FAIR: July 2007


Message 2U
by Bono July 2007

Let me explain what I'm doing here, and there.
By "there," I don't mean my day job as singer with Irish postpunk combo U2.

By "there," I mean data—the organization which campaigns on debt, aids, and trade in Africa.

By "there," I mean the One Campaign—which is becoming like the National Rifle Association in its firepower, but acts in the interests of the world's poor.

By "there," I mean (Product) Red—which piggybacks the excitement and energy of the commercial world to buy lifesaving aids drugs for Africans who cannot afford them.

And by "there," I mean Edun—the missus's clothing line that wants to inject some dignity through doing business with the continent where every street corner boasts an entrepreneur.

These all relate to the same place and the same idea: that Africa is the proving ground for whether or not we really believe in equality.

For example, we are witnessing a general desire and drift toward action on climate change, a very positive thing. But imagine for a moment that 10 million children were going to lose their lives next year due to the earth's overheating. A state of emergency would be declared, and you would be reading about little else. Well, next year, more than 10 million children's lives will be lost unnecessarily to extreme poverty, and you'll hear very little about it. Nearly half will be on the continent of Africa, where H.I.V./ aids is killing teachers faster than you can train them and where you can witness entire villages in which the children are the parents. All over the world, countless children will die as a result of mosquito bites, dirty water, and diarrhea. It's not a natural catastrophe—it's a completely avoidable one. Diarrhea may be inconvenient in our house, but it's not a death sentence.

This is happening at a time of great geopolitical unrest. The majority of people in the world no longer idolize Western ideals of justice, freedom, and equality. They don't believe we believe in them. As a student and fan of this great country, America, and the ideas at the heart of it, I think the wider world needs to see a demonstration of those "American" values, through pharmacology, agro-ecology, and technological help for those in extreme circumstances, in their hour of need. These are dangerous times—it's cheaper and smarter to make friends of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later. Ask the four-star general James L. Jones, former nato commander and one link in the American chain of command who back in 2002 foresaw difficulties ahead in Iraq.

That's the context for what you could call a "swarm-of-bees strategy": ganging up on these problems from every side.

data is an advocacy and policy operation based in Washington, D.C., London, and Berlin and targeting the G-8 capitals.

The One Campaign to Make Poverty History is an umbrella group of different NGOs and grassroots activists from across the political spectrum who believe these issues are about justice, not charity. Nearly three million Americans so far have signed up for the One Campaign, pledging to help the world's poor. Soccer stars, soccer moms, NGOs and C.E.O.'s, punk-rockers and churchgoers … the only places that haven't been active are Main Street, the shopping malls.

So Bobby Shriver—chairman of data and a hero on the issue of debt cancellation, who sold an arcane economic issue to congressional members on both sides of the aisle—and I started (Product) Red, so called because red is the color of emergencies, and that is the only way to describe the aids pandemic. We believed that to ignore the neon and creative force afforded by corporate America would be to ignore the truth about where most Americans live and work. A few years ago I was with the great Robert Rubin, former U.S. Treasury secretary under President Clinton. He said if we are serious about our stuff we will have to improve on two fronts: (1) communicating to America the scale of the problem, and (2) convincing America that the problem can be solved. He added the challenge that we would need the kinds of marketing budgets Nike and Gap have at their disposal.

He was right. Without our corporate partners—American Express, Apple, Emporio Armani, Converse, Gap, and Motorola—we could never afford such bright neon, or the acres of bold billboarding. These companies are heroic (and—shock, horror—we want them to make money for their shareholders because that will make (Red) sustainable). In the project's first nine months, $25 million has gone directly from (Red) partners to the Global Fund, which grants money to health-care organizations around the world to fight aids, tuberculosis, and malaria. That is more than Australia, Switzerland, and China contributed last year.

As you read this—historic—issue of Vanity Fair, the Global Fund is benefiting, but that's not the main reason we kidnapped this publication's extraordinary photographers and storytellers. We needed help in describing the continent of Africa as an opportunity, as an adventure, not a burden. Our habit—and we have to kick it—is to reduce this mesmerizing, entrepreneurial, dynamic continent of 53 diverse countries to a hopeless deathbed of war, disease, and corruption. Binyavanga Wainaina's piece on Kenya is an eye- and mind-opener. From here, what's needed is a leg up, not a handout. Targeted debt cancellation and aid mean 20 million more African kids are in school, 1.3 million Africans are on lifesaving drugs. Amazing.

So now I hope you better understand the "here," i.e., my signing up as guest editor.

Lastly, I've always imagined that if I hadn't been a singer I would have been a journalist. But, in truth, my bandmates saved me from disappointment, as I'm no natural editor. The fact that we have 20 covers for one issue bears testament to that. I am flat out of hyperbole to describe Annie Leibovitz—a devoted mother who set out on a world tour to photograph these cover stars—and inchoate in the company of such a team of wordsmiths and image-makers. And then there's Graydon, a true rock star. (Checklist: mad hair, natty dresser, de rigueur unrepentant smoking, etc. I looked like his manager.) He is the dramatist that we've been looking for. By the way, he tried to change the name of our band to 2U—it was his last defense against my challenge to call this issue Fair Vanity.

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